I used to say that I’ve been to Canada and I’ve been to Mexico but I’ve never been to Europe. I can’t say that anymore. In early May I visited Poland and the Czech Republic. If you count airport layovers, throw Germany into the mix too.
The trip started out on a wonderful note as, through some sort of Lottery-like dispensation, I did not have to remove my shoes or belt when moving through airport security nor did I have to subject myself to a full body scan. I was walking on air, soon to be flying through it.
(Alas, all things even out. On my return trip to the U.S of A., in the Prague airport, beltless, shoeless and with pants pockets turned inside out, I was frisked down to my socks. Symmetry, that bane of my existence, struck again.)
My traveling companions were my wife, my cousin (whose suggestion of traveling to Poland got this whole excursion started) and my sister. My cousin is of the female gender so, yes, guys, I spent two weeks traveling with three women. It was fine as long as one inured oneself to the different concepts of “Time” that men and women have. You know what I mean.
Example: When men say “Okay, ready? Let’s go.” They get up and…go. I don’t think I need to expound on this any further.
At one point in Krąków, we were waiting in line for an event. I struck up a conversation with the fellow behind me, an older gentleman from the Netherlands. He carried a cane and was dressed quite snappily in an overcoat, a smart hat and an ascot. It was the first time I had ever seen an actual person wearing an ascot, much less spoke with one. We palavered quite pleasantly. I mentioned that I was having a great time but vowed never to travel with three women again. He indicated his wife behind him and said “It’s difficult enough with one. You have my sympathy.”
Address those cards and letters to The Third City, ladies.
Krąków, by the way, is a beautiful city. Its centuries-old buildings are in fine fettle as they were untouched by the destruction caused by World War II because the Nazis decided to make Krąków their headquarters. I guess we have something to be thankful for from that odious regime.
We stayed in Stare Miasto, the Old Town section, and tromped all over the place. We, exaggeratingly, walked at least a hundred miles a day. Seeing all these buildings and cobblestone streets that are many centuries old wowed me to no end. We visited the expansive Walwel Castle, the fairy tale–like Barbicon which was the fortress that allowed or denied entry into the medieval city. Behind it is the Florian Gate, a towering tower built in the 1300s that opens into the ancient city. Amusingly, in a non-funny way, the first thing one now sees upon passing thru the massive gate is a McDonalds restaurant.
The Wieliczka salt mine, where I encountered the gent from the Netherlands, is quite incredible. This is a salt mine filled with tunnels, chambers and saline lakes but what is amazing about it is the exquisitely rendered carvings and sculptures that are there—all carved out of salt. Statues of noblemen, saints, Pope John Paul (who hailed from Krąków), historic re-enactments, artistic reproductions i.e “The Last Supper”, even an entire cathedral complete with chandeliers carved of salt!
Oh, that Chicago!
It was there that I struck up another conversation with the chap sitting next to me on the bench as we awaited entry to the mine. He was a young tattooed lad from outside of London. He asked where I was from and I told him “Chicago.” He pondered this a bit and then queried, “That’s in the midwestern part of the country, isn’t it?”
“Yes”, I replied and then, taken a bit aback by what appeared to be his unfamiliarity with ‘Chicago’, I got down to stereotypes and said “Y’know, Chicago…Al Capone…Michael Jordan…?”
He looked at me in a non-plussed manner, gave a laconic shrug and busied himself with his cigarette. Blimey, are the youth of Great Britain as geographically clueless as our own?
I’ve a few more anecdotes regarding Krakowians and Chicago. Here’s one.
In the town square there are many folks trying to make a living in various ways; selling artwork, playing music and giving tours, to name a few…as well as a few other enterprises that arise well after dark (nudge, wink). One girl (not from the after dark venue) came up to me and asked if I’d like to take part of a group tour. I politely declined but she was persistent.
“We speak many languages”, she assured me. “Where are you from?”
“Chicago.” I replied.
She looked forlorn. “Oh, I am sorry,” she said, “We don’t speak Chicago, only English.”
I don’t think she knew how right she was.
Another time a young fellow responded to my Chicago answer with “Oh, the Chicago Bulls. I love the Chicago Bulls. And Michael Jordan!” He obviously didn’t go to school in England.
My favorite remark came from a woman who was leading us to our table in a restaurant. “Oh, Chicago! I know Chicago. I love the music.”
“Well, yes”, I muttered in response, “The home of the Blues…”
“Richard Gere!” she cried “and Rene Zellweger!”
It was then I realized that she was speaking of “Chicago,” the musical.
Well, what do you know, my word limit is just about used up and I haven’t gotten to the beers, the bison grass vodka or the Gołąbki yet.
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Judgment Calls…
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When I walked into the park district field house for my first yoga class, I didn’t know what to expect. Though I generally like to do my research before doing or buying something, in this case I had not.
It was as if my aching body intuitively knew I needed yoga. My muscles were tight from years of driving, sitting at a computer, jogging and cycling without stretching. The recent back strain I had gotten while bending over to get something out of the freezer was the last straw.
I enjoyed that first class so much, that according my Excel spreadsheet of lists, I went 400 times over the next three years.
One thing I liked about yoga was stretching for an hour or longer, without rushing from one muscle group to the next, and with no pressure to achieve any minimum level of flexibility.
“Don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing, just be present in your own mind on your own mat,” I have heard many teachers say.
It took me awhile, but I also realized that besides the physical benefits, there were mental ones as well: during yoga you are free from outside distractions, spending time in the peace and quiet of your own mind, letting thoughts come and go with each breath.
Exhaling stress, worry, regret and to do lists. Putting things into perspective. Thinking about the good and the bad, about nothing and about everything.
Grabowski does yoga!
After that initial obsession, I went through a few-year period of only going sporadically, because we had moved and I didn’t get into a routine in our new neighborhood.
When we later bought a house, I found an idyllic studio nearby.
The first time I went, it felt like that first class years ago, and it was as if the teacher was speaking only to me.
“You should thank yourself for taking the time to do something good for yourself tonight,” she said. “Even though you might like to come more often, coming occasionally is better than not at all.”
My new teacher is passionate and genuine and exudes a yoga lifestyle, in a stylish, non-hippy way. Throughout class she casually interjects comments that relate our poses to our minds and lives.
She once made us hold a difficult pose for so long that my inner voices began to curse. Knowing what we must have been thinking, she suggested that we embrace the annoyances and fears in our lives rather than avoid them.
Every class she says something that resonates and makes me look at my life a little differently, more positively.
I still don’t go to yoga as much as I used to or as much as I would like to.
But when I do go, I am glad to be there, even if I still can’t wrap my foot around the back of my head while balancing on one leg, like the girl next to me.
Editor’s Note: Grabowski‘s last post for The Third City was Friday Night Live…
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Almost everything I do is against my better judgment. This, of course, begs the question: Do I even have better judgment?
I tend to overdo the self-destructive things, underdo the healthy things and, sadly, not do the thoughtful things. I have plenty of good intentions, though. I understand that they can make fine paving stones.
Fortunately, for me and society, my wife is not only, to use that time-honored and shopworn phrase, my “better half”, she is also my better. This I can state unequivocally and no one who knows us would argue otherwise. Therefore I leave many, if not most, of the judgment calls to her so that they will turn out better than how I would choose.
Since I’ve known her, this modus operandi has kept me out of such unsavory places as jail, the poorhouse and the gutter. Paradoxically, what is invariably at the root of all those eventual landing places is the pleasurable experience called “fun”. Fun is nothing to take lightly as, is often evident, it can end up having you.
But, man, fun, fun, fun ‘til your T-Bird gets taken away, am I right? Fortunately, I was able to survive many flings with fun that was had at the cost of better judgement. Being as old as I now am, the type of fun I used to have is harder to come by. It’s also a little harder to handle.
When you’re an old codger like me, you’ve got to grab whatever comes closest to fun and hold it tightly in both of your withered and veiny hands, clutch it to your chest and cherish it for as long as you can because you never know when you’re going to nod off and fall asleep.
Muddy Waters had the right idea…
Hot-rodding down the streets, picking up chicks, smoking massive amounts of reefer and downing massive amounts of whatever type of alcohol or drug is available has been replaced with such subdued pleasures as the quiet company of close friends, reading a good book, watching children play, trying to get the iPod to work and ingesting massive amounts of MeTV.
Not that I don’t try to relive those misspent moments of my youth (and who says they were misspent? Care to step outside, bub?). I still drive as fast as I possibly can, except in Rahm’s Speed-Cam zones (if I remember) and at night (The auras! The auras!). I’m too out of shape to pick up chicks (being a 198 pound weakling with a pot belly).
But I’m still willing to test the capacity of my liver and lungs with the Muddy Waters Blue Plate Special (“Champagne and Reefer”) if it’s placed in front of me (or to the side, I’m not particular but, please, not behind me; all that twisting and turning will just result in dosages of Mentholatum and Naproxen).
A plethora of parentheses aside, one need only remember what hath been written in the Good Book. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” …unless your name is Judy.
See what I mean?
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was No More Mr. Big Dick…
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This is an open letter to my fan base or, if I may be so boldly optimistic, my fans base that has been following my Big Dick series which has recently been running in The Third City.
The Big Dick was originally meant only as a humorous one-shot but the powers that be at The Third City, who can be quite persuasive, in an almost medieval manner, demanded, that is to say, suggested that I continue the story.
So, shackled, er, seated at my desk in The Third City Sweatshop, I mean The Third City Creative Salon, I churned out a Chapter II and close upon its heels, a Chapter III in what was becoming The Big Dick serial.
Only then was I allowed to go home for a change of clothes and a bath. But I have fooled them. I have, instead, gone to an undisclosed location where I shall be safe for the time being. It will take a while for The Third City drones to track me down.
I have resorted to these desperate measures for the benefit of YOU, dear reader(s). I’ve gotten in so deep with The Big Dick (no pun intended) that I feel I need to take a break and actually think about conceiving some semblance of a plot. Right now I’m just typing and spinning my wheels. It’s only fair to my rapt readership who breathlessly awaits each new installment that I have some idea of what direction or directions I may take this adventure.
Jim learned everything he knows from Mel Brooks’ Get Smart and…
This undertaking is reminiscent of one I undertook when I was in high school. As I was failing English, I was working on and completing a comic novel, although I suppose it was more of a novella. It was a satire of the James Bond/secret agent books that were at the height of popularity back then, then being the mid-1960s.
I had never expended as much energy or spent as much time on anything else in school as I did in plotting out and designing that book. I wrote and designed each chapter so it resembled the Ian Fleming style. I even typed, using my mother’s old Royal manual typewriter, on paper the size of pages in paperback books. This way, when finished, it had the heft and look of an actual paperback…sorta.
Even though I tried to mimic the writing pattern of Ian Fleming, my protagonist, Secret Agent X Minus (X-), was a bumbler. Allow me to add, as a historical footnote, that my bumbling secret agent was created and completed before Get Smart ever aired. Somehow, that damn Mel Brooks stole my idea.
Mel Brooks’ The Producers!
My friends who took the time to read it clamored for a sequel. So, I wrote two satirical spy novellas, Moldbringer and Doctor Maybe. I wish I knew whatever became of them. (Mel Brooks?!)
As I mentioned, while I was preoccupied with my teenage muse, I was failing English. I did rally enough to earn a D, as I did in virtually all of my other classes. (I never have aimed very high). Perhaps if I had shown my English teacher the works I had produced, I’d have been rewarded with a D+?
Anyway, Big Dick will wilt for a while on hiatus until I can see what I can steal from Dashiell Hammet, Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler, er, I mean, concoct a plot worthy enough to fulfill the lofty expectations of The Third City readership.
In the meantime, please enjoy the scribblings that I will submit in the interim as well as the other incisively witty posts offered by The Third City crew and be sure to buy their products and accept their recommendations. They will never steer you wrong.
I love Big Br—Third City! I love Third City!”
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“Federico Farquahr”, read the card in Hugo Dare’s massive paw. In smaller print, below the pretentious-sounding name, were the words “Dealer in Objets d’Art “.
“Hmmm” mused the hefty gumshoe,”Looks like someone doesn’t spell very well.”
Abruptly, he jerked his head upward as a light bulb went off above his head. Not one of those curlycue energy saving ones that take their time coming to full brightness but an old-fashioned incandescent one that illuminated immediately.
“That dame never told me what kind of pup was kidnapped!” he blurted into the stale air of his cramped office, “and she didn’t pay me a retainer either!”
Dare pocketed the business card and muttered, “If I hurry, I can catch her before she leaves the building.”
He grunted as he wriggled to and fro in an attempt to extricate himself from his chair.
“Why, oh why did I get a chair with arms?” he moaned as he continued to emulate someone trying to squeeze into a girdle, except in reverse.
After much heaving and hoing, the voluminous sleuth finally freed himself from the confinement of his desk chair and stood upright—only to get his head entangled in the ceiling lightshade.
“Oh, jeeze”, he groaned, “I’m going to have to get my hat blocked after this.”
In order to reach and remove the hanging lightshade from his lodged noggin, he’d have to climb upon his desk. No simple task for a man of his size and girth, especially with the brim from his entangled hat crumpled over and covering his eyes.
He held onto the desk with his ham hock hands to steady himself and proceeded to carefully lift one of his size 27 EEEE wingtips onto the desktop. The first attempt removed a chunk of the desk edge. The second one slid the desk blotter willy-nilly, knocking the phone into the waste basket. The third try sent his desk lamp crashing to the floor. With the waste basket asking “Number, please?”, Hugo decided to try climbing knees first.
This approach worked. After several sweat-soaked minutes, he was crouching atop his desk like a trenchcoat-clad grizzly bear wearing an electric funnel.
“Easy now, easy…” he encouraged himself as he began to slowly rise to his feet. With one flat foot flat on the desktop, he held his arms outward like a tightrope walker as he slowly endeavored to raise his other tree-like leg from a kneeling position to a standing one. In a recreation of evolution when creatures emerged from the sea to walk upon land, this behemothic beast, with the utmost care and diligence, haltingly and deliberately brought himself to his full height as he successfully stood, not unlike Sir Edmund Hillary on the summit of Mount Everest, erectly upon his desk.
The human skyscraper exhaled a well-deserved sigh of relief. Then the desk collapsed.
This unfortunate and destructive accident did, however, dislodge the lightshade from Hugo’s head. It also dislodged the light fixture from the ceiling. With sparks hissing and “Number, please?”ceaselessly iterating, the hefty hunk of manhood rose from the splinters of his office furniture and headed for the door.
He opened his office door and took only one step through before he found himself wedged in the doorway.
“I seem to be in a jamb.” He chuckled to himself as he pushed and prodded his prodigious pile of protoplasm through the prohibitive portal.
After several excruciating minutes, he clomped down the hallway, his shoulders still encased in the doorframe as well as part of the wall. The laths extruding from the plasterboard went clickey-clack on the hallway walls as Hugo Dare hied himself to the elevator.
“Darn!” he murmured as he gazed upon the needle above the Otis Box pointing to 1, “I missed her.”
— to be continued (sometime)
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was The Big Dick II…
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“I need you to find something for me.”
That was what the blonde cupcake calling herself Ann Faraday had said. She sat stiffly in the straightback chair and stared steely-eyed at the prodigious private eye crammed behind his miniscule desk and waited for his response.
The shadow cast from the brim of Hugo Dare’s football field-sized fedora upon his plentiful proboscis which in turn cast a shadow wide enough for a village smithy to stand under hid the smirk that his leviathan lips had curled into as he contemplated upon the mundaneness of the jaunty jessie’s statement.
“She needs me to find something,” thecapacious shamus thought to himself as he tried to hide his unintentional expression of smugness. “Why else would she come into the office of a private detective? Certainly not to sell raffle tickets for a girl scout jamboree.”
He peeped her a bit more as she sat there with her beret-topped blonde hair fondling her creamy shoulders encased in a form-fitting angora sweater with a neckline plunging to the depths of any red-blooded man’s desire, her gams crossed carelessly under a leather mini-skirt that was hiked up to Pleasure Island with only a dainty purse on her lap blocking the view.
Hugo’s thought waves continued as he blinked his orbs in an attempt to return himself to the matter at hand, “She’s no girl scout.”
The gargantuan gumshoe once again smiled, displaying his immense incisors, and purred “What is it that you have lost, Miss Faraday?”
“Lost?” she snapped, shooting forward in her chair, “Lost? I haven’t lost anything. I’ve had something stolen from me!”
She leaned closer to emphasize even more emphatically, “Stolen!”
Ignoring the tiny rivulets of feminine saliva spotting his fleshy puss from the spitfire’s precisely stressed syllabic explosion, Hugo gently said “I’m so sorry. Please tell me more.”
The blonde opened her purse, extracted a dainty white lace hankie and dabbed at her eyes as she spilled.
“It’s my little Guillermo. He’s my little, itty-bitty puppy, the cutest you’ve ever seen.” She gushed, sounding like a little girl lost, dabbing at her heavily-mascaraed eyes that, curiously, did not run.
“And!” she snapped, returning to her hard-boiled persona as she glared at the detective in such a way that he felt much smaller and defenseless than his size exhibited, “Very, very valuable.”
“H-How valuable?” stammered Hugo.
The blonde sniffed “I wouldn’t deign to put a price on him but others would.”
She snaked forward, her eyes as bright as a hawk spying its prey, as she hissed through her clenched and glistening teeth, “Especially the ones that puppy-napped him!”
Hugo was impressed with how frightening she sounded, even while saying the word ‘puppy-napped’, that he tried his best to look attentive and professional as he asked if she had any idea who would do such a thing as…puppy-nap.
She withdrew a business card from her purse and slapped it upon his desk as she bolted to a standing position.
Her voice sounded like a wire brush on sandpaper as she sneered “You’ll find the name of the scoundrel printed right there!”
She strode to the door and with her hand on the knob, turned toward the puzzled peeper and demurely said “I shall accept your normal rates unquestioningly. I’m sure they will be fair.”
She shot him her predatory glare and then unconvincingly smiled as she added “I will expect results soon.”
She opened the door, started out, turned and said “Very soon.” before shutting it behind her.
Hugo sat dumbfounded for a bit, then blinked his lamps and picked up the business card. It looked like a postage stamp in his massive mitt but the name printed upon it was easily readable.
Hugo spoke the moniker aloud as he read, “Federico Farquahr.”
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was The Big Dick.
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The elevator doors opened and the blonde walked out. Her skin-tight leather mini skirt emanated little squeaks that served as a strange atonal accompaniment to the echoing steps of her stiletto heels as she moved briskly down the empty hallway.
A black beret was perched jauntily upon her head of long blonde hair that cascaded down the back of her neck and caressed the shoulders of her white angora sweater. It was a short-sleeved number with a plunging neckline that afforded a view as enticing as anything the Grand Canyon could offer. Nestled in the petite handbag on her hip was a nickel-plated handgun.
She was dressed to kill.
She surveyed the doors that she passed and stopped in front of one of them. The plaster and paint around the doorframe looked new. The lettering on the door’s window did not. It read ‘H. Dare, Private Investigator’. She turned the knob and walked in.
A feeling of suffocation immediately overtook her. She steadied herself on the doorknob as she surveyed the interior. The office was small but it seemed even smaller than it was. All it contained was a chair, filing cabinet, wastebasket and a desk with phone and lamp.
The Big Dick by the great Mr. Siergey!
But behind the desk was a massive figure that dwarfed the contents of the room as well as the room itself.
He looked as if he had been poured behind the desk that, although of normal size, appeared to have been borrowed from a child’s dollhouse. One of his shoulders brushed the filing cabinet on one side of him and the other nearly brushed the opposite wall. He was clad in a tent-sized overcoat and a felt hat that could double as an aircraft carrier.
Its Brobdingnagian brim shadowed the top of his face but his eyes shined like headlights. His gaze was so transfixed that he appeared to be in a trance. He neither blinked nor moved.
The blonde slammed the door. The tranquil giant shuddered and blinked his headlights as he returned to earth.
Apologies to Mr. Sam Spade…
“Excuse me.” he mumbled, “I was contemplating time and space. I have an abundance of one and a dearth of the other.”
He smiled, displaying a piano keyboard full of teeth.
“I am Hugo Dare, private investigator.” he boomed, “Please sit down, Miss….”
He let the sibilance linger as he gestured with his hassock-sized hand toward the empty chair. The blonde glanced at the chair and then looked up at the calendar on the wall. Seeing that it displayed a month long past, she tore off the sheet and used it to dust off the long vacant seat. She sat down, crossed her legs and placed her purse upon her lap.
“Faraday, “she replied. “Ann Faraday. I need you to find something for me.”
—excerpt from “The Maltese Chihuahua”, a novel in progress …
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was A Member of One…